Sally Pearson after winning gold at the London Olympics. Picture: Brett Costello
Sally Pearson after winning gold at the London Olympics. Picture: Brett Costello

Why Pearson sits alongside Freeman, Cuthbert

CATHY Freeman. Betty Cuthbert. Shirley Strickland. Marjorie Jackson. When you think of track and field royalty in Australia, that's the top of the tree.

Now add Sally Pearson.

The Gold Coast hurdler, who announced her retirement on Tuesday, is the best Australian track athlete of the modern era.

Statistically Pearson has won more individual Olympic and world championship medals than Freeman, the Sydney Olympic 400m champion.

An Olympic gold in London in 2012, silver in 2008, two world titles and a world championships silver medal plus two Commonwealth titles is her extraordinary CV.

After continually defying the odds throughout her career, Pearson, who turns 33 next month, finally lost the fight with her body.

 

Constant achilles and hamstring problems forced her to make the call which she'd been desperately avoiding for years.

Pearson has announced her retirement.
Pearson has announced her retirement.

There are so many amazing moments throughout Pearson's glittering career but one which epitomises her best was her 2017 world title.

No-one saw it coming, even the always optimistic Pearson had serious doubts it was possible.

A broken wrist suffered in a mid-race fall in 2015 seriously derailed her career. It eventually forced her out of the 2016 Rio Olympics, cruelly denying her the opportunity to defend her Olympic crown.

In what was seen as an act of desperation Pearson decided to coach herself which over the journey hasn't proved to be a winning formula at the elite level of track and field.

Not for the first time Pearson backed herself in, shut-out the doubters and went to work.

Her opponents were always bigger, stronger and more athletically gifted but they didn't have her mindset, a ruthless ability to refuse to give an inch.

Pearson with her 2012 Olympic gold medal. Picture: Getty
Pearson with her 2012 Olympic gold medal. Picture: Getty

The Australian's gift was her style, a flawless technique and efficiency over the hurdles compared to her opponents.

She simply worked harder for longer and never deviated in her belief that she was the best hurdler on the planet.

In London she was considered an outsider in a field full of lightning fast Americans, including the new world record holder Kendra Harrison, who had dominated throughout the season.

An impressive semi-final run sent a message that Pearson wasn't finished and then in the final she played with her rivals minds.

With her typical fast start, she kept her form and rhythm while others faltered to become world champion again.

Australian head coach Craig Hilliard was moved to say at the time: "That's one of the greatest comebacks in Australian history."

He then paid her the ultimate compliment, comparing her to Freeman.

"She just finds another something, she's like Cathy Freeman, she finds another 10 per cent," Hilliard said. "She's just a classic athlete who finds another level. When the bar is raised, she finds it."

And finally retirement has found her, leaving a legacy that has Sally Pearson comfortably mingling with Australia's track and field royalty.

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